Monday, February 1, 2010

Sailing through the air off a horse rarely ends well . . .

     Ever been thrown from a horse?  Oh, it's lots of fun, trust me!  There is a wrench beneath you, and even if you've clamped down hard, your knees and hands just aren't enough to keep you from losing contact.  And off you go in a blur of thinking "Oh crap, I hope there's no rock down there" and before you know it, the ground has risen up to meet you and you're either scrambling for footing or gasping for air which that thing called impact has sucked from your lungs.  
     Now the way that you fall is always different.  I've landed on my feet with the reigns still in my hands.  I've had the horse fall into a deep grass-covered ditch and been tossed up on the other side.  I've had to bail off a horse that brilliantly tangled himself up in electric fencing and was going crazy.  I have slid off the side and come down full on my tail-bone (complete novice of a beginner back then).  But the winner, that tumble that will forever take the prize in its category, was all because of a wire fence.
     Fences are a problematic part of riding.  They keep you locked into a specific area.  You cannot simply jump over them - horses don't jump wire safely.  When the posts rot or fall over, the fence becomes hidden in the brush or grass, and you've got a perfect recipe for some of the worst spooks and cuts you've seen on a horse.  
     My - and I say that because the story is very much mine - fence was a 4-foot sheep wire bridging a gap of about 15-feet between two 5-foot-high barb wire lengths.  The gap had been a corridor into an area with a lean-to and water trough the horses had used during winter.  It being spring, and wanting to plant potatoes in the then well-fertilized lot, someone had closed the gap with the aforementioned patch of 4-foot wire.
     I came along one Saturday afternoon, enjoying a good gallop.  Now, if you know anything about horses, you know that they like going back to their barn.  The last time my horse had been in that pasture her barn lay beyond that narrow corridor, and the low wire had not been there.  Upon approaching the corridor I wanted to veer left, and pulled the reigns accordingly.  Nothing happened.  I pulled harder, my horse absorbed the pain in her mouth and kept right anyways.  The fence was coming up awfully fast.  I pulled left again, and the mare seemed to yield just a bit.  Now that I look back at it, I can imagine that the horse was paying all her attention to getting to the barn, and probably didn't see the thin wire at a lower level than the rest of the fence.  Yielding to me was a way of getting her mouth back, but she did not intend to give in.
     Just as we had almost passed the corridor, the horse made a sharp pivot and jump to the right - directly into that low fence!  Because I was not prepared for it, and I was riding bareback, and the horse had been loping, I did not stop when the horse did.  Oh no, I did not stop for another 12 feet!  
     I don't remember having time to utter a sound.  The only thing I remember is a feeling of observing myself lift off above that outstretched neck as I became airborne.  The next instant I was jarred back to reality by the brutal, brutal impact.  I don't know how it happened, but my grip on the mane must have turned my body in the air, because I landed flat on my belly and pelvis - facing the opposite direction I had been going and still clutching long strands of hair.  
     Ever belly-flopped onto cement?  The dirt was dry and rock-hard and strewn with thistles.  Enjoy that feeling of your chest heaving for oxygen without any making it in?  I could hear myself gasping and gagging as I stumbled to my feet.  I would have laid there, but the first thought racing through my brain - almost before I realized I couldn't yet breathe - was that my horse was tangled in that fence and could panic and rip herself up, and I didn't want that.  Dragging myself to my knees I started crawling, then stumbling, and finally jolting forward on unsteady feet towards that flailing horse.  I didn't manage to draw my first breath until I was at the downed fence, but by then she was free and limping frantically away.
     Everything hurt!  But I could still walk ok once I could breathe again.  My right wrist was strangely tingly and a bit numb, but since it wasn't hanging off at a weird angle I didn't stop to check it.  In a few moments I had caught my stunned horse, rapidly running my hands down trembling legs to check for gashes or breaks.  Nothing.  Leading her forward a few yards I carefully watched her gait, in case she had pulled anything major.  Her gait was improving my the second.  Relieved, I started hobbling the long walk back to the house, that silly horse in tow.  
     It must have been a curious sight dragging into the yard - that horse and I - all shaky and dusty and bruised and bloody.  Aunts and uncles, Mom and Dad, siblings and cousins dropped everything and came rushing over.  I was still worried about my horse.  My mother wanted to spank her for running into the fence and throwing her baby!  Someone took the horse, I made it into the house to clean up and the adrenaline wore off.  
     Long story short, my wrist was tingly and numb because it was broken.  Come to think of it, if I had cried instead of calmly stating that it hurt just a little too much and asking to go to the ER, I might have made it that night and not 24 hours later!  But after 4 months of casts (very slow-growing bone called the navicular) I was once again flexing a shriveled claw.  I didn't wait more than a week to get back on the horse though - you just can't wait that long for another thrill!

     And that is that.  More later . . . .